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IN SESSION: Not much progress on big issues at session's midpoint

Minimum wage and budget still uncertain

February 5, 2014, 1:40 pm
By Matthew Reichbach
It is now halfway through the 2014 legislative session, which is a good time to stop and take a look at what has happened so far..

There were a number of big issues the legislature is facing this legislative session. These included new battles between the governor and Democrats in the legislature and battles that have been going on since Susana Martinez was sworn in.

So what has happened so far? On most issues, not much. The budget sucks up a lot of attention on the House side while the Senate waits for their chance to take a crack at the budget.

An enormous part of the state budget is spent on education. The House Democrats outlined their education budget on Tuesday, and it was much different than the education priorities of Martinez.

At issue is the Democrats want to have more money "above-the-line." This would allow the school districts to decide how to use the money -- including a three percent raise for teachers of all classifications. Martinez, on the other hand, wants more "below-the-line" spending. This is money for the Public Education Department to distribute, including in merit pay.

The House Appropriations and Finance Committee stripped out merit pay. Another under-the-radar issue is special education funding. House Democrats say Martinez's budget would not reach federal "maintenance of effort" standards and risk New Mexico losing tens of millions of dollars in federal funding.

While Democrats currently seem to have the upper hand on education funding, an increase to the minimum wage doesn't seem to be on such solid footing.

Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, said he would vote against a passing a proposed constitutional amendment on marijuana out of Senate Rules Committee. Without his vote, it would not have enough support to emerge.

Sanchez does, however, have a bill to increase the minimum wage to $8.00 per hour with some exceptions. Last year, Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed legislation to increase the minimum wage to $8.50 per hour. She supported an increase to $7.80 per hour from the current $7.50 per hour.

The perennial issues that grabbed headlines over the past three sessions have seen no movement. A fourth year of efforts to ban drivers licenses for immigrants in the country illegally still has not had a hearing in its initial House committee. The same for a fourth year of efforts for third-grade retention.

Another bill with a history of not crossing the finish line, one that would provide for banning certain fireworks during exceptional drought. This bill has passed the Senate Public Affairs Committee and heads to the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee. Last year it fell in the House and never even reached the Senate committee process.

Democrats have also said they will have a series of hearings and confirmation hearings on controversial nominees by Martinez. One promised hearing is scheduled for February 10 on the controversial Downs at Albuquerque racino deal. The biggest confirmation hearing on Public Education Department secretary-designate Hanna Skandera has not been scheduled yet.

So far, prominent legislation has either inched its way through one committee or is still waiting to be heard in the first committee. But that shouldn't be a surprise -- the final two weeks of the legislative session are generally flurries of activity on these and other issues.

 

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